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Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto

Rabbi Yosef West

The life of Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto ztz”l was brief and turbulent, but filled with monumental accomplishment. Despite the opposition he faced during his lifetime, today his Mesilas Yesharim is a foundational sefer for Jews everywhere.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, known by the acronym Ramchal, lived a very short life, passing away before the age of 40. But in his brief lifespan, he managed to author approximately 100 seforim and left an indelible mark on all future Jewish generations.

Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto was born in Padua, Italy, in the year 1707. His father, Reb Yaakov Chai, was a talmid chacham who supported his family by dealing in silk and grain.

Rav Moshe Chaim’s father was an affluent man and a great practitioner of hospitality, and his home hosted many visitors from Eretz Yisrael. This made a tremendous impression on young Moshe Chaim, leaving him with a powerful sense of love and longing for theHoly Land.

From a young age, Rav Moshe Chaim was educated by Rav Yitzchak Chaim Cantarini, who taught him much Torah, as well as grammar, poetry, and the art of writing with logical power and stylistic beauty. The latter skill is much evident in the many seforim he would write later in life.

After Rav Yitzchak Chaim passed away, the Ramchal was taught by Rav Yeshayah Bassan, the author of Sh’eilos U’Tshuvos Lachmei Todah, who was considered one of the gedolei hador, expert in both the revealed and esoteric facets of the Torah. Rav Yeshayah — known as the Mahari Bassan — was a dayan in Padua and more broadly, a prominent leader of Italy’s Jews. He was a student of the renowned mekubal Rav Moshe Zacuto of Mantoba, and of his father-in-law, Rav Binyamin HaKohein.

The Mahari Bassan viewed the Ramchal as much more than a student. In addition to teaching him both the hidden and revealed portions of the Torah, he also developed a profound understanding of the Ramchal’s very soul, which he used to guide him and to transmit to him a way of thinking about the deepest aspects of the Torah. During these formative years, Ramchal also acquired a secular education — which included the study of Latin, Italian, French, and Greek — as was customary in that time and place, and he developed an aptitude for play-writing and poetry.

When Rav Moshe Chaim was only 15 years old, the Mahari Bassan left Paduato assume the rabbanus in the city where his father-in-law had been serving as rav, and from which he was retiring due to old age.

After his rebbi’s departure, Rav Moshe Chaim continued to immerse himself in Torah study and avodas Hashem, and joined a society of men focused on spiritual growth, called “Mevakshei Hashem,” whose members detached themselves from all worldly pursuits and primarily studied Kabbalah. Within this select group, Ramchal became recognized as a genuine illuy possessing extraordinary powers of comprehension and retention. His peers also came to realize that, in addition to his vast knowledge of Shas and poskim, Rav Moshe Chaim was, even at the tender age of 15, also well-versed in all of the writings of the Arizal and the entire Zohar.

The saying goes that a man’s pen is the mirror of his soul, and by that standard, Ramchal’s soul was unquestionably filled with purity, powerful love of Hashem, and great yearning for the revelation of the ShechinahAt the young age of 20, the Ramchal expressed some of these feelings in a poetic composition consisting of 150 chapters (the same as the number of chapters in Sefer Tehillim), which bespoke worlds of love and attachment between the Jewish People and Hashem.

Utilizing his well developed talent for dramatic prose writing, at the age of 17, Rav Moshe Chaim published his first work, entitled Maaseh Shimshon, which conveyed in dramatic form the need to perfect one’s middos and to subdue the yetzer hara in order to succeed in serving Hashem. In that same year, he published another book, entitled Lashon Limudim, on the structure of lashon hakodesh. The book guides the reader in enriching his use of the language through proper sentence construction and word choice, illustrated by hundreds of examples from Tanach.

In 5486/1726 Reb Moshe Chaim was appointed the head of the Mevakshei Hashem society. His selection for this position at the age of 20 was remarkable, given that the group’s members included a number of eminenttalmidei chachamim who were well-versed in both the nigleh and the nistar aspects of Torah, including Rav Moshe Dovid Walli, Rav Yekusiel Gordon, Rav Yisrael Chizkiyah Trivis, Rav Yitzchak Marini, Rav Yaakov Yisrael Chazak, Rav Shlomo Dina, Rav Michael Tirani, Rav Yaakov Yisrael Kestil Franco, and others.

Not satisfied, however, with focusing only on his personal spiritual growth, Rav Moshe Chaim insisted that the other members of the group join him in aspiring to sublime levels of avodas Hashem; to that end, in the years 5490 and 5491, the Ramchal established new guidelines for the members of the group that set even higher spiritual goals for its members.



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